Mini-Reviews: Divine Rivals & Tooth and ClawDivine Rivals by Rebecca Ross
Series: Letters of Enchantment #1
Published by St. Martin's Publishing Group on April 4, 2023
Genres: War, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: the library

When two young rival journalists find love through a magical connection, they must face the depths of hell, in a war among gods, to seal their fate forever.

After centuries of sleep, the gods are warring again. But eighteen-year-old Iris Winnow just wants to hold her family together. Her mother is suffering from addiction and her brother is missing from the front lines. Her best bet is to win the columnist promotion at the Oath Gazette.

To combat her worries, Iris writes letters to her brother and slips them beneath her wardrobe door, where they vanish—into the hands of Roman Kitt, her cold and handsome rival at the paper. When he anonymously writes Iris back, the two of them forge a connection that will follow Iris all the way to the front lines of battle: for her brother, the fate of mankind, and love.

Shadow and Bone meets Lore in Rebecca Ross's Divine Rivals, an epic enemies-to-lovers fantasy novel filled with hope and heartbreak, and the unparalleled power of love.

Since day one, Iris Winnow and Roman Kitt have been pitted against each other. Competing for a single coveted columnist at the most prestigious newspaper in Oath, these “divine rivals” spend every second they’re not obsessively crafting their stories obsessively thinking of each other. Because they hate each other…right? It’s easier to focus on their petty rivalry than on the war. A war between two ancient gods is getting ever closer to their lives in the late 19th-century London-inspired Oath, and soon they won’t be able to bury their heads in the sand.

When Iris writes a letter to her beloved brother Forest, recently departed for the frontlines, she thinks of it as nothing more than a writing exercise. She can’t actually mail it to Forest – she doesn’t even know if he’s still alive. But somehow, Iris receives a reply to  her letters…just not from Forest. Iris is terrified and thrilled by her correspondence with “Carver,” a young man who shares a similarly painful family history. Soon, their friendship deepens into passion. But can their honesty and vulnerability in writing translate to the same face to face? And what is Iris supposed to do about her growing feelings for Roman?

Sweet lord, the tension! This is a Romantic story, not just a romance. What could be more romantic than baring your soul through letters and then cautiously doing the same in real life? The letters are incredibly poetic, sweet, and funny. I was really swept up in them and Rebecca Ross impressed with how well she crafted the tension between her leads. I do wish that there’d been more of the fantastical in this story, since we know so little about the gods, why they’re fighting, and how. No doubt that will be revealed in the sequel, giving how things left off.

War novels aren’t my typical wheelhouse – the bleakness and the cruelty is usually too much for me. That, or the romanticization of war makes me sick. But in Divine Rivals, Rebecca Ross creates an impressive third space. One where war stories do not shy away from the hell of war but also push readers to focus on hope, on connection, and on finding comfort in the darkness. I also appreciate how much care Ross takes with her portrayal of shell shock (PTSD) and its impact on soldiers – and war correspondents –  well after the bombs have stopped falling.

Divine Rivals has an un-put-downable quality that meant I flew through the story. I was quite pleasantly surprised by some of Ross’ plotting choices, and I was genuinely shocked by the ending. I will warn y’all now that you’re in for a brutal cliffhanger. I’m absolutely clamouring for the sequel!

Mini-Reviews: Divine Rivals & Tooth and ClawTooth and Claw by Jo Walton
Published by Tor Publishing Group on November 1, 2003
Genres: Fantasy of Manners
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

A tale of contention over love and money—among dragons

Jo Walton burst onto the fantasy scene with The King's Peace, acclaimed by writers as diverse as Poul Anderson, Robin Hobb, and Ken MacLeod. In 2002, she was voted the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Now Walton returns with Tooth and Claw, a very different kind of fantasy story: the tale of a family dealing with the death of their father, of a son who goes to law for his inheritance, a son who agonizes over his father's deathbed confession, a daughter who falls in love, a daughter who becomes involved in the abolition movement, and a daughter sacrificing herself for her husband.

Except that everyone in the story is a dragon, red in tooth and claw.

Here is a world of politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country which, on the death of an elder, family members gather to eat the body of the deceased. In which society's high-and-mighty members avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby.

You have never read a novel like Tooth and Claw.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw is an absolutely brilliant take on dragons – and the Victorian novel. In Walton’s world, a distinctly Victorian sensibility governs society, but society is made up not of ladies and gentlemen, but of dragons. The ballrooms of great estates are massive to account for the size of the parties in attendance, religious piety can be revealed by one’s commitment to giving up flight on the Sabbath, and the reigning fashions of the era are focused on extravagant headwear (so as not to impede the use of one’s wings).

Tooth and Claw is a Victorian family drama. When the famed – and famously large – dragon Bon Agornin dies, his children and grandchildren prepare to mourn in the only way they know how: by eating his remains. Dragon meat has properties that quite literally causes other dragons to grow bigger and stronger. Eating one’s relatives after their natural death is a sign of respect – and a great honour. Not all dragons are afforded the opportunity to eat dragon meat, nor should they be: for the larger a dragon becomes, the greater their social status grows. So when one member of Bon Agornin’s family eats far more of the great patriarch than they ought, a series of events is set into motion that will change the fate of everyone in the family. 

Tooth and Claw primarily follows the consequences of this unjust consumption for the three youngest of Bon Agornin’s children, whose expectations for an inheritance have been dashed. Avan, Selendra, and Haner are likeable characters with realistic flaws and I found myself cheering at their triumphs and crying out at their foolishness. But speaking honestly, it’s not the characters that make this story worth reading: it’s the worldbuilding. 

These dragons are obsessed with manners and civility, but when tooth meets claw, they’re still dragons. They eat raw flesh (and each other!) and if a legal battle is decided in their favour, they may fight their enemy to the death. Walton brilliantly plays with and expands upon Victorian purity culture and women’s agency through the concept of a dragon’s “blush.” Maidenly dragons are gold, blushing pink once they have accepted a proposal of marriage – or a more tawdry advance. If an unwed dragon maiden blushes, she is ruined forever (and will most likely be eaten). When a creepy old dragon tries to make Selendra blush against her wishes, I felt absolutely outraged. Over a blush! That’s how well Walton crafts her world.

I can in all honesty say that I’ve never read anything quite like Tooth and Claw.  A true gem!